For Future Tennessee Wine (Or Kimchi) Producers, MTSU Launches Degree In Fermentation Science | Nashville Public Radio

For Future Tennessee Wine (Or Kimchi) Producers, MTSU Launches Degree In Fermentation Science

Dec 28, 2016

Middle Tennessee State University says its newest degree program will allow students to tap into a growing industry in the state: fermented food and drink.

Starting next fall, they'll be able to major in fermentation science, studying the process that converts sugars into gases, acids or alcohol. 

"It's products such as wine, spirits, beers, as well as foods such as cheese, yogurts, soy sauce, pickles, breads and vegetables," says Bud Fischer, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Science at MTSU, where this program will be housed.

These fermented products are important because Tennessee makes a lot of them. The state is home to 60 wineries, more than 50 breweries, 30 distilleries and 10 cheese-making companies, MTSU said in its application for the program. Jack Daniels and George Dickel are located conveniently close to the university, as is Yoplait's yogurt-making plant in Murfreesboro.

The fermentation science program is designed to prepare students for jobs at these companies: They'll take chemistry and biology classes, plus wine appreciation, brewing safety and principles of food processing.

Tony Johnston, the program's director, says he wants this to become a pipeline for the industry. The school has already gotten interest from food and drink producers in the area.

"My real objective for this program is that MTSU will become the institution of choice for students who want to work in this area and for employers who want to hire graduates," he says. "They'll look to MTSU as a place to hire a fermentation expert, regardless of whether they're making pickles or kimchi."

The university has a natural advantage in that it doesn't have much competition yet. So far, there are only a handful of public schools around the country with fermentation science programs. In the region, Appalachian State and Southern Illinois at Carbondale both offer degrees; Eastern Kentucky has a fermentation certificate.

As a secondary focus, MTSU's program will offer some classes in energy production, since ethanol is made using a similar process from organic materials like corn.